Eurotrains rumble Chelsea's rich calm

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The Independent Online
QUITE what Michael Caine and the other rich and famous residents of Chelsea Harbour will make of it remains to be seen.

But one day this spring, trains half a mile long will begin trundling past the high-rise, top-security ghetto for the rich on the north bank of the Thames in west London. They will carry freight from the Continent via the Channel Tunnel.

When the 300 or so families now living around the yacht marina started moving into the luxurious flats (penthouses pounds 1.15m; four-bedroom flats pounds 750,000; one-bedroom pounds 145,000) six or seven years ago, they would have been aware of the two- track line passing over the old Chelsea railway bridge and snaking along the western perimeter of their estate.

But with the line lightly used and the flats double glazed, few would have given it a second thought. With 12-hour porterage, 24-hour security patrols, parking for chaffeured vehicles, health club, yacht club and exclusive shops and restaurants, the development simply offered security, luxury, outstanding views across the Thames and well-manicured peace and quiet.

What their legal searches will not have shown, however, was that British Rail's Railfreight international division was planning to make the West London Line, which runs past Chelsea Harbour en route from Clapham to Willesden Junction, the main freight link to and from the Continent.

In future up to 70 trains a day (35 each way) could trundle past Chelsea Harbour in addition to the 52 existing freight trains, several passenger services and a new Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia shuttle link. In total about 180 trains will pass Chelsea Harbour daily - a 300 per cent increase estimated as meaning one train every eight minutes, day and night.

Last week, however, there was little apparent concern among residents. The woman in the Harbour Estates office conceded there might be some effect on the development but she was philosophical. 'Anywhere you live in London is subject to change,' she said.

Joe Schmidt, who is retired and lives with his wife in a flat backing on to the line, said: 'It will mean more noise but how much it will affect us is difficult to know.'

It is a sang-froid not shared by many other Kensington, Chelsea and Hammersmith residents in Victorian flats and houses further up the line.

Rosie Moore, a nurse living in a first-floor flat in Kensington backing on to the railway, is campaigning for the freight trains to be rerouted on to the North Downs Link line via Reading and Redhill.

As a member of the West London Rail Watch group, she is worried that increased noise and rail vibrations could lead to a serious blight on local house prices, reducing values by up to pounds 30,000.

Local residents have never been consulted about the plans to route Euro-freight trains through the centre of London, she says. The group is seeking compensation for property blight, and to pay for double glazing and noise barriers.

Clive Soley, Labour MP for Hammersmith, has just written to Sir Bob Reid, chairman of British Rail, asking why there has been no public consultation on the plan to increase the use of the West London freight line.

He has tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for the North Downs Link railway to be used for the Channel freight trains.

A spokesman for Railfreight said that BR was under no obligation to consult residents about its plans to increase the use of the line or, under present laws, to compensate them for property blight.

However, BR is willing to contribute to jointly funded schemes with local authorities to erect acoustic barriers at particularly sensitive spots along the line.

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